Tag Archives: vacation photos

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Sometimes you just need to get away from it all. No phones. No internet. No distractions. Just peace & quiet. The Complete Package found such a place – a respite from the big city – deep in the heart of Texas. It’s called St. Clare’s Cabin and it was perfection. Here’s a photo journal of our week in the country.

LeakeyTX - St Clare's Cabin

Nestled in a valley near the Sabinal River, St. Clare’s Cabin is between the towns of Leakey and Vanderpool, Texas and only 8 miles or so from Lost Maples State Park. Everything about the cabin’s location is scenic.

LeakeyTX - Cabin Entry

LeakeyTX - Welcome to St Clares

What a wonderful surprise to walk into such a warm, cozy and beautifully decorated home. I think I want to live here. Permanently.

LeakeyTX - Cabin from Bedroom Doors

LeakeyTX - Cabin View from Front Door

I love the dining nook table. It is handcrafted with an inlaid state of Texas in the middle and a star marking the cabin’s location. It’s all about the details.

LeakeyTX - Dining Nook

Here’s a close-up of that equestrian collage hanging over the dining table.

LeakeyTX - Equestrian Collage

This is what it means when someone says “the decorator paid such great attention to detail.” Every touch at St. Clare’s Cabin was thoughtfully placed.

LeakeyTX - Front Porch Love

LeakeyTX - Retro Picnic Decor

LeakeyTX - Cozy Kitchen

LeakeyTX - Gorgeous Dishes

LeakeyTX - Cute Country Bath

LeakeyTX - Bathroom Touches

I’m not ashamed to say I squealed like a little girl when I saw that the cabin was decorated in retro Christmas. I absolutely loved it!

LeakeyTX - Holiday Fireplace

LeakeyTX - Christmas Mantle

LeakeyTX - Pinnochio Tree Topper

Speaking of Christmas, as soon as we got there, Dobie (our Christmas Shelf Elf) found a fun new buddy to hang out with. Literally.

LeakeyTX - Wild Boar & Elf

When he got bored with the boar (ha-ha), he stayed busy pranking the kids. He was found swinging from the shower rod, soaking in a mini-marshmallow bath, and climbing a decorative shutter in the kitchen. I think he was motivated by that little Hershey bar. He’s definitely my kind of elf.

LeakeyTX - Elf Climbing for Candy

After snacking on chocolate, we found him napping in the tissue box. I think it was the only time he sat still all week. He’s an active, mischievous little elf.

LeakeyTX - Elf Treats & Nap

Speaking of sleeping, St. Clare’s Cabin has two lovely bedrooms, each with a queen bed (one firm, one soft). The first was decorated in a cowboy theme.

LeakeyTX - The Cowboy Bedroom

The second paid tribute to a long-lost relative and his military service. Both bedrooms had limestone floor, quilts made by the owner, and hand-embroidered pillow shams. Again with the details. Love, love, love it. Very sweet.

LeakeyTX - Second Bedroom

Also sweet? The cabin’s large front porch. I love a screened porch – a love directly traced back to my maternal grandmother who lived on the Red River outside of Denison, Texas. I have many, many fond memories of playing on her porch. I’m not sure there’s anything better than a cabin with a big screened porch, unless it’s a porch with a swing. Ever slept on a screened porch on a beautiful summer night? It’s a little piece of heaven.

LeakeyTX - St Clares Cabin & Kids

LeakeyTX - Porch View of Front Yard

The fenced yard is huge, and I loved this cute tin-topped table & chairs.

LeakeyTX - Porch Table at Cabin

We invited our daughter, son-in-law and two grandkids to join us for a weekend. I think they enjoyed the cabin as much as we did, but Jonah Bear & Lilly Bug reeeeealy loved it. They took full advantage of the great outdoors.

They fell in love with the creek that lines one side of the property.

LeakeyTX - Creek at the Cabin

Or maybe it was the plethora of limestone rocks they could toss into the creek.

LeakeyTX - Kids at the Creek

Over and over and over again – for two straight days.

LeakeyTX - Jonah Tossing Rocks

And then there was the hammock. Those kids loved that hammock.

LeakeyTX - Jonah & Lilly Hammock

LeakeyTX - Lilly in Hammock

We also loved exploring this part of the Texas Hill Country. The Complete Package and I took a different scenic drive every day we were there. I had no idea this part of the state was so lovely.

LeakeyTX - Sabinal River Cypress

LeakeyTX - Scenic Drive - Bluffs

LeakeyTX - Preparing to Cross

LeakeyTX - River Crossing near Concan

LeakeyTX - View of Bluff at Sunset

LeakeyTX - Longhorns

LeakeyTX - Gang of Wild Turkeys

Those are wild turkeys, folks. We saw gangs of them – running amok, causing trouble and tagging cars late at night. It left me wondering how good one of these would be baked up for Christmas Dinner. And then I found myself craving a whiskey & Coke and a turkey sandwich. {heehee}

Each night, I found myself looking forward to sitting by the fire pit with a roaring campfire, or swinging in the hammock as the sun set over the valley, or gazing at a pitch black sky late at night with the brightest stars you’ve ever seen, or curling up in my favorite spot by the window gazing at the mountains.

LeakeyTX - My Baby in the Window

That’s My Baby. She’s keeping my spot warm. Thanks, honey! She’s a good girl.

And now that we’re home, I’m already thinking about our next visit to St. Clare’s Cabin. It’s so lovely in the fall, I want to see it in the spring when the creek is flush and the wildflowers are blooming. And I want to go back in the summer when the rivers are running at capacity and everyone descends on the Frio and Guadalupe Rivers to float in inner tubes and getting a little too sunburned. I want to soak up the fresh air, enjoy the peace & quiet, and watch those gorgeous Hill Country sunsets. And I want to do it as often as possible.

LeakeyTX - Sunset at St Clares Cabin

Want more information on vacation rentals? I highly recommend our two favorite “By Owner” websites – Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) and HomeAway. As with any ‘by owner’ site, the key is to do your homework, read descriptions thoroughly, stick to rentals that include plenty of pictures so you see what you’re getting, and rely on the reviews written by others who’ve stayed there. We’ve rented on these two websites at least 8-10 times, and we have never, ever been disappointed. If you’d like to visit the St. Clare’s Cabin Retreat website, click here.

So… where do you go when YOU want to get away?

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Prague – The Food

I’m still going through vacation photos; sorting them out and reliving our trip. As I am, I realized it only seems fair to post a few photos of some of the food we tried in Prague. I mean, Istanbul got a food post. And The Netherlands got a good bit of attention with Claudia’s herring and my beloved oliebollen. So, in the interest of all things fair and right and foodie, here are a few of the food snaps I managed to take before stuffing my face. Note to self: I really need to work on that whole ‘pause, show some restraint, photograph, then eat’ system.

The first thing you need to know about food in Prague is that it tastes better when you eat it in a quaint neighborhood beer garden like this one.

You can't beat the food or fun offered at a neighborhood beer garden

And it’s even better if your neighborhood beer garden is rowdy and festive and brightly painted, and has great beer and live music.

Who could possibly resist this place? Or polka music?

Not much of a beer drinker? How about a cup of piping hot honey wine, then?

Honey Wine vendor at Old Town Square

I’ll warn you – it tastes a little like a hot, oaky chardonnay but with a healthy dose of paint stripper and Nyquil. And not the good cherry Nyquil, either. Gird your loins, kids. This stuff packs a punch. It was warming and sweet at the first sip. It was punching me in the gut and trying to steal my wallet by the last. Frankly, they could have sold a lot more of it if they’d just served it up in one of these beauties. That little bit of marketing genius is free, honey wine man.

I'm guessing everything tastes better in hand cut Czech glass. Pinkies up!

You know what else is really attractive (to me, anyway)? Big honkin’ hams smoking on an open fire pit. I can’t look at this stuff without wondering where the big pan of biscuits is hiding. Yes, I’m southern. Why do you ask, darlin’?

This is Old Prague Ham and That is the Old Prague Ham Master

I could go into the history of Old Prague Ham, but frankly I don’t care how it got here. I just want it really bad and I can’t stay focused on anything other than its smoky goodness long enough to put any more effort into it. Here’s what you need to know – it’s gorgeous and it smells like smoky meat heaven. Period.

Don't you wish you had smell-o-vision right now?

But wait! There’s more! The OPH man also sells sausages with rye bread and spicy mustard. AND kraut with little Czech dumplings and chunks of smoked ham in it. And Nestea, evidently.

Oh yeah, baby. We're about to get our Eastern European on!

The sausage was tasty and the bread was lovely and that kraut was a work of art, but let’s talk about the ham for a minute. Stay with me.

I would eat this on a boat. I would eat this on a float. I would eat this in a car...

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Dang! That’s a lot of smoky ham!” And you’d be right. Which brings me to my one and only tourist rip-off cautionary tale from our trip. The sign above the Old Prague Ham quotes a price. A very reasonable price. What you won’t notice (because I swear it didn’t say it anywhere) is that the quoted price is for a certain size portion of ham and that OPH is sold by weight. So unless you step up and say, “I’ll take the 80 Czech crown portion” (which translates to roughly $4.00 US), they will give you a giant plate of ham and tell you it’s 200 crowns (here, I’ll do the math – that’s $10.00 US). Now, ten dollars isn’t going to break anyone’s piggy bank, but what it will do is feed everyone standing within 10 feet of you. And that’s 10 feet of space in Old Town Square where all the tourists mingle in close proximity. I ate ham. The Complete Package tried the ham. The four Asian tourists sharing our tiny cocktail table were invited to try ham, but giggled at the absurdity of the size of my ham plate and politely declined. So instead, it fed two young homeless men who were scrounging through a garbage bin rescuing bread that others had tossed aside, and it also fed their little dog. Little dog got that crusty piece of ham skin, and he totally rocked it. Which leads me to my last two bits of advice about Old Prague Ham.

1. Too much Old Prague Ham may lead to massive stomach cramping and over-consumption of anti-diahrreal medications. It may also cause you to curse the day you ever laid eyes on 200 crowns worth of OPH, and say things to yourself like, “I’m sorry, Istanbul. I packed that Immodium assuming that I’d be sharing it with you. But I was wrong. So wrong. Please forgive me.”

2. If the wish I threw into that wishing well comes true and I do, indeed, return to Prague some day, I’m having what TCP had.

Because that's the way *uh huh uh huh* we like it

And now for something sweet. While at Prague Castle, a smell danced past my nostrils that was so intoxicating, I found myself drifting toward it much like those old cartoons where the besotted floats above the ground being pulled in a trance-like state towards something irresistible.

One whiff, and you'll want to hand over your wallet & credit cards

In this case, it was trdlo. I know. It’s an odd name. But what it lacks in vowels, it more than makes up for in aroma and flavor. Imagine the smell of warm cinnamon sugared toast. Picture the texture of soft warm white bread hot out of the oven. Now imagine the combination of those two things – a warm, soft cylinder of piping hot bread, enrobed in a crunchy cinnamon sugar hug.

Trdlo stands draw crowds of visitors, all following their noses

Here’s how it works. Bread dough is rolled into a thin rope and wrapped around a metal cylinder. A board is sprinkled with sugar crystals and cinnamon, and the cylinder is rolled through it, as though rolling out a pie crust or pizza dough. Rolling helps to flatten the dough onto the cylinder and helps the sugar/cinnamon mixture stick to the dough. The cylinders are then placed one at a time onto a special rack over a hot fire.

This stuff is heavenly, which makes those holy rollers

As each trdlo is taken off on one end, another new one is added at the other end. By the time each cylinder makes it across the fire, it is perfectly golden and ready to eat. Each roll is broken in half, forming two beautiful golden cuffs of deliciousness. If they weren’t so darned irresistible, I’d wear them like bangles on both wrists. So not kidding.

Another sweet treat was our stroll through the small but interesting History of Chocolate Museum. It’s tiny and kind of kitschy, but also fun. Your reward for paying the entrance fee is the live chocolate making demonstration, where a candy shop employee shows you the steps to making hazelnut creme filled chocolate stars.

The live chocolate making demonstration in progress

Oh, the magnificent aroma of that chocolate room. It’s so strong and so heavenly, it seems to permeate every cell of your body for at least 20 minutes. If I could bottle it as perfume, I could buy a summer castle in Prague. It was glorious. If you’re into tasting over smelling, the pay-off comes at the end of the demonstration when you get to sample the goods.

Twinkle twinkle little star, cuter than a Hershey Bar

And while I’ve always made it a practice not to publish photos of myself or TCP, he did manage to snap a shot of me coming out of the tasting room. It’s not flattering by any means, but what are you gonna do? Sometimes the truth hurts.

Oh, snap! I was sure NanaBread was a brunette!

Prague is primarily known for it’s pork dishes and dumplings, but there were a few culinary surprises. Take this appetizer, for example.

Fried Sardines & a cold Pilsner - TCP was one happy cat!

I don’t heart stinky fish, but The Complete Package does and he was tickled to pieces with this plate of sardines, fried up crispy and dipped in mayonnaise. And for the record, that’s not lumpy American mayo from a jar. That’s the good stuff. The homemade version. And if you ever eat it (especially on fries while in Europe), you will never look back. I think TCP could have sat in this little Italian cafe and eaten sardines all day long. The beer didn’t hurt, either.

And then there was this steaming platter of Spaghetti Carbonara. It was lovely, but it tasted even better than it looked.

Proof that everything is better with bacon

This was TCP’s lunch. I was hoping he’d filled up on stinky fish, but no such luck. Evidently he was just getting started. But I did get one bite, and it was tasty. Don’t feel bad for me, folks. Mama didn’t raise no fool. I did my research and knew October was at the peak of the wild mushroom harvest season. So guess what I ordered?

Read it and weep - Wild Mushroom Risotto

Oh, yeah. It was creamy. It was earthy. And it was fabulous. Which reinforces what I’ve said all along. When you travel, give yourself a gift you’ll always cherish. Try local foods. Immerse yourself in local customs. Try to live, as much as possible, as a local instead of a tourist and you will create memories that will last a lifetime. And, truth be told, that works just as well when traveling to other states as it does abroad.

If you missed the Prague post, you can click here for a shortcut.

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I’m baaaaaaack!

Thank you dear readers for your patience and support while I took a little time off from blogging. The Complete Package and I took three weeks off to explore Europe on what could easily be classified as the “trip of a lifetime.” Wondering where we went? Okay, I’ll tell you anyway {wink}.

First, we went here:

The Peace Palace - Den Haag (The Hague), Netherlands

The Hall of Knights - Den Haag (The Hague), Netherlands

Inside the Hall of Knights - Den Haag (The Hague), Netherlands

As a special bonus during our week in The Netherlands, I got to meet and spend a day with one of my blog readers, Claudia. Together, we spent a fabulously fun day in Rotterdam. It’s a day I will never forget, and I’ll be sharing more about it in a later post. (Hi, Claudia! Love you!)

Then we went here:

The Hagia Sophia - Istanbul, Turkey

Inside the Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

Shopping at the ancient Spice Market - Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul was a revelation. It has been on The Complete Package’s travel wish list for years. I’ll admit, I had some reservations but I was not going to let them stop me from going. And now that I’ve been? Well, let’s just say I couldn’t have been more ignorant or wrong. Istanbul was fabulous and friendly and ancient and fascinating, and I LOVED it. My heart breaks for the victims of last week’s earthquake in eastern Turkey and my prayers are with them all.

And finally, we went here:

St. Nicholas Church, Bridge Tower & Castle - Prague, Czech Republic

Senate Building & Gardens - Prague, Czech Republic

A Sunset Walk below Prague Castle - Prague, Czech Republic

Prague was gorgeous. There is something lovely and ancient around every corner. I don’t think I’ve seen a better collection of fabulously ornate churches since Paris, and I’m not sure some of Prague’s aren’t better. Take the St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle, for instance. Holy cow (pun intended). Words can hardly describe it, so I’ll be sharing more photos later. Lots of photos.

Speaking of photos, we took over 7,000 of them in our three weeks away. I’ll need some time to go through them all, but once I do I’ll be posting separate stories for each of the cities we visited and I’ll also be sharing my day with Claudia in Rotterdam.

Which brings me to one last point I want to share. Blogging gives me the opportunity to share some of the craziness that floats randomly through my brain, and I love that you not only allow me to do it, you seem to enjoy reading along. But my favorite thing about blogging, hands down, is the friends I’ve made along the way. You, my dear readers, are why I keep writing. I love your input, your comments and your support. So thank you for sticking with me, for allowing me to take a few weeks off to enjoy some very special time with TCP, and for coming back again and again. I love you more than chocolate. And you know how much I love chocolate.

So stay tuned, kids! I’m going through photos and trying to wrap my head around the past three weeks. Once I do, we’ll be off to the races with tons of photos and stories to share. It’s good to be back!

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